Russians, Americans Must Dispel Myths About Immigration, Officials Tell Journalists

MOSCOW – Russia and the United States need immigrants to sustain economic growth, but both countries face social and cultural challenges integrating new peoples into their societies, officials told journalists at a seminar on migration organized by the Moscow Higher School of Economics (HSE) and the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).

“All countries realize the contribution (of immigrants) to the economy,” Konstantin Romodanovskiy, director of the Federal Migration Service of Russia, said at a conference held in Moscow on April 10. But in Russia, which is second only to the U.S. in the number of arriving immigrants, “migration can give way to problems” such as xenophobia and nationalism, particularly if immigrants fail to learn Russian and integrate into society, he said.

Stephen Bucher, associate director of Refugee, Asylum and International Operations at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in Washington, D.C., agreed saying immigrants “enrich our way of life, contribute to growth and help renew democracy.” But, he said, immigration is “not without challenge” as migrants spread out to less urban areas of the United States.

Bucher and Romodanovskiy spoke at a first-of-its-kind conference for Russian journalists called  “Migration in Host Countries: Social Constraints, Cultural Context and Political Consequences.” It was part of a three-day conference and seminar designed to familiarize journalists with immigration trends in two of the world’s largest countries.

The BBG (www.bbg.gov), the federal agency that oversees U.S. international broadcasting, is charged by Congress with training international journalists on a variety of subjects.

Sheila Gwaltney, deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, opened the sessions saying that despite differences between the U.S. and Russia, both countries “believe we need to focus on the issues that unite us.” As destination countries, Russia and the U.S. can cooperate on immigration issues, she said.

“The U.S. experience is very valuable for us … the use of education for integration,” said Romodanovskiy. Since the break-up of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, Russia has seen more than 45 million people arrive in the country, he said. Bucher pointed out that the U.S. – unlike Russia, which was relatively homogenous ethnically – is a diverse nation built on immigration. However, immigration patterns have changed from earlier decades when Europeans comprised the majority of immigrants. The seminar attracted more than 20 journalists from across Russia.

Bucher and Romodanovskiy are key members of a working group on migration under the U.S.-Russian Bilateral Presidential Commission set up in 2009 to tackle issues of joint interest. The U.S. Embassy in Moscow provided support for the conference and seminar.

The Broadcasting Board of Governors is an independent federal agency, supervising all U.S. government-supported, civilian international broadcasting, whose mission is inform, engage and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy. BBG broadcasts reach an audience of 187 million in 100 countries. BBG networks include the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (Alhurra TV and Radio Sawa), Radio Free Asia, and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (Radio and TV Martí).

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